In Australia this week, as a Chinese Falun Gong adherent Xiang Tao An, described by the government as “an unlawful non-citizen”, was prepared for deportation back to his home country, a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying: “We do not return anyone where it will be a breach of our international obligations.”

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951, to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as anyone who has a “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. Article 33 of that same Convention declares that no refugee shall be returned to a country where “his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

In March last year, according to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the United States State Department, the United Nations Special Rapporteur Nowak reported that Falun Gong practitioners accounted for 66% of victims of alleged torture while in Chinese government custody. In its Country Report on Human Rights Practices, the US Bureau gave no judgment as to the truth or otherwise of that allegation but it did have this to say about the way adherents to this rather strange organisation are treated in China:

Falun Gong members identified by the government as “core leaders” have been singled out for particularly harsh treatment. More than a dozen Falun Gong members have been sentenced to prison for the crime of “endangering state security,” but the great majority of Falun Gong members convicted by the courts since 1999 have been sentenced to prison for “organising or using a sect to undermine the implementation of the law,” a less serious offence. Most practitioners, however, were punished administratively. Some practitioners were sentenced to reeducation through labour. Among them, Yuan Yuju and Liang Jinhui, relatives of a Hong Kong journalist working for a television station supportive of Falun Gong, were sentenced to reeducation through labour for distributing Falun Gong materials. Apart from reeducation through labour, some Falun Gong members were sent to “legal education” centres specifically established to “rehabilitate” practitioners who refused to recant their belief voluntarily after release from reeducation-through-labour camps. Government officials denied the existence of such “legal education” centers. In addition, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners have been confined to mental hospitals, according to overseas groups.

Allegations of abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by the police and other security personnel continued during the year. In addition, multiple allegations of government-sanctioned organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners surfaced. In April overseas Falun Gong groups claimed that a hospital in Sujiatun, Shenyang, had been the site of a “concentration camp” and of mass organ harvesting, including from live prisoners . The government opened the facility to diplomatic observers and foreign journalists, who found nothing inconsistent with the operation of a hospital.

Police continued to detain current and former Falun Gong practitioners and place them in reeducation camps. Police reportedly had quotas for Falun Gong arrests and targeted former practitioners, even if they were no longer practising. The government continued its use of high-pressure tactics and mandatory anti-Falun Gong study sessions to force practitioners to renounce Falun Gong. Even practitioners who had not protested or made other public demonstrations of belief reportedly were forced to attend anti-Falun Gong classes or were sent directly to reeducation-through-labour camps. These tactics reportedly resulted in large numbers of practitioners signing pledges to renounce the movement.